Friday, March 1, 2013

Writing Articles for Patients and Profit

Writing articles is a wonderful way to get your name in front of lots of people with very little effort. However, if you’ve never done this before, it can be a little intimidating at the beginning. Who could I write for, you might ask? How to I get started? What if I’m not a great writer? What sort of publications take articles? Who has ownership of my articles? Where can I find the names of publications that might be interested in receiving articles? Why would a general interest magazine be interested in articles on Chinese medicine? What good will writing articles do for me in my practice?

All of these are valid questions, so let’s take them one at a time, starting with the last one first.

What good will writing articles do for my private practice?
Let’s say you like to treat children and you get an article about the benefits of Chinese dietary theories published in a parenting newsletter in your community. This does not have to be longer than 500-750 words long, written in very simple English, with just some basic information about eating cooked food, the dangers of sugar, avoiding iced drinks for small children, etc. Maybe, instead of getting paid, you negotiate to have your photo and contact information put at the end of the article. In that “contact paragraph”, you also put a sentence saying to call your clinic for more free information on keeping kids healthy.

First, you get visibility and more visibility in your local area! Published articles immediately present you as an expert if not THE expert in the field in which you want to build your practice.

Second, it gives potentially interested parents a very low-risk next step to take, i.e., call you for a free article or a short consultation about children’s health. This helps you build a mailing list which can be used for all sorts of things, but that’s a different article.

Third, any articles you can get published in your local area are better than any paid advertising you can buy!

Fourth, you can clip the article, laminate and frame it, copy it and use it as part of a mailing to your patients or potential patients, put it into a waiting-area notebook along with testimonial letters, other articles on Chinese medicine, research articles on specific conditions, etc. Or, use the digital version as part of a blog series or to send to larger publications to get more writing opportunities.
Finally, since most articles your write for print are likely to have an online version as well, link them to your website, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter pages or any blogs in which you participate! That way, you can get the word out to as many people as possible. Get any of your friends who want to help you build your practice to do the same on their social media!

What sorts of publications would be interested in articles on Chinese medicine outside of our profession?
Almost any one of hundreds of newsletters or niche market publications, depending on how you write it! To cite just a few examples, can you make a case for acupuncture for professional bicyclists? Can you address stress reduction for business people? Can you write about effective diet plans for pregnant mothers? Could you do an article on maintaining low back health for motorcycle enthusiasts? Do you have anything to say about recuperating from sports injuries, maintaining healthy, beautiful skin, preventing high blood pressure, or getting off hormone replacement therapy? What about an article for office workers on easy, at-your-desk self-massage for stress reduction? Do I need to go on?

There are literally hundreds of small and large publications on every subculture and every niche interest group in the US. Corporations and large businesses also have company newsletters. These publications are industry specific or interest-area specific, but that does not mean that you do not have an interest message for them. What are the largest companies in your city? Call them and find out if they have a company newsletter and who the editor is. These editors are always looking for something interesting and new for their readers.

So how can I find out what publications are in my area?

The reference department in your public library can be of great help in your search for local and regional publications.  Ask the reference librarian if they have a copy of Hudson’s Subscription Newsletter Directory, the Internal Publications Directory, or the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters. Then look for newsletters in your area of interest or in your geographical region.

Second, comb the Sunday issues of your local newspapers for the names of all organizations in your area. Call each of them and ask if they have a local, regional, or national newsletter. Find out the names and contact information about the largest employers in your area. Call them and ask about in-house employee newsletters. Also, don’t forget to ask what publications these organizations subscribe to and carry in their offices.

If you are a specialist in any area, (sports medicine, orthopedic acupuncture, gynecology, etc.) find out if there are local publications that might allow you to show off your expertise in that area. Even general interest local publications are possibilities.

I also suggest that you query your local newspapers for their submissions guidelines for articles on health.  Speak to the health and features editors and find out what things might interest them. Maybe you could write a once-per-month “health tips” article.  Of course these editors will probably want to see samples of your work, a photo, a short biography, and anything else you’ve published elsewhere. While many larger newspapers have wire services and staff writers and will probably not pay you anything, if you can say something they think is interesting for their readers, you just never know what they might accept for publication. Smaller newspapers, on the other hand, could be very easy to approach and easy to write for.

Put out a little sign in your waiting area that you are available to write an article for any patient’s organization newsletter. Remember that your patients are members of a wide variety of groups, most of whom could use acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine for something! You can do speeches for your patients’ groups as well as writing for their group newsletters.

Finally, remember that each and every publication you query will have different submission guidelines. You need to follow these closely or the editor in charge is likely to toss your article...they don’t have the time to decipher work that is not presented the way they want and expect to see it. Some may want only hard copies of articles, others only computer files. All will want a short cover letter stating your credentials, what your article is about, why you think it’s relevant, etc. If you are looking to establish a column or a long term relationship with this publication, make it short, interesting, and easy to get at the important information.

Can I publish my articles in more than one place?
The answer to this will vary, but is probably yes. You must negotiate ownership of your articles with each publication. Do know that if you are offered money, the publication will probably then own your article as a “work-for-hire”. However, if you are not being paid, you may be able to retain the copyright to any work you do with the possibility of publishing it elsewhere. It is also possible to take one article and “tweak” it into several others for other organizations, industries, special interest areas. Remember, everyone is interested in good health and ways to maintain it, procure it, or improve it. So, be creative in who you think you can write for!

What if I’m not a great writer?
When you sit down to write, pretend you are writing a letter to your sibling or telling a story to a friend. Keep it conversational and real.  You don’t have to use big words or complex sentences. However, if you don’t trust your writing skills, there are resources such as Writer’s Inc. (available in bookstores or at the library), which gives you basic, easy to understand rules for writing well in English. There are lots of other, similar books out there for would-be writers. If you are going to write on a more than occasional basis, I recommend getting something like this for your reference shelf, and using it.

Consider taking a writing class at a local community college or adult education center.
Finally, you might consider recruiting help. This could be a journalism student, a local copy-editing service, or someone from a local writers’ club.  Their fee might be a few dollars per page, but $20 or $30 could improve your credibility and, what if an article brought you 10 new patients?

Final thoughts on article writing
More people are writing more stuff for more publications of all sizes, shapes, and fields-of-interest than ever before. You can participate and the rewards can be substantial in terms of finding patients for your clinic.

When you write, your written “voice” can be as friendly and relaxed as you would be in person, as long as you are clear and don’t ramble. The best way to get people’s interest is to have something useful to say, said in a way that is easily accessible to the widest group of readers. You are not looking for a National Book Award, just more patients!

Chinese medicine and acupuncture are still treating only the smallest fraction of people in this country (some statistics suggest about 5%). People need to know the benefits of this medicine, and it is up to us to tell them. The burden of proof and communication is up to us!

Finally, why should the practitioner down the street be the “expert” instead of you?

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